The Appointment of an Estate Administrator Can Be Contentious

shutterstock_96626983-300x300Estate planning in New York presents many benefits for settling an estate.  The foundation for any plan is a Last Will and Testament.  This document allows a person to memorialize in writing his intentions and desires regarding the disposition of estate assets.  Provisions can be made for bequests of specific property to individuals and various shares of an estate can be allocated among family and friends.  In effect, a Will allows for a written enforceable declaration by a testator regarding distribution of assets.

Although a Will needs to be filed with the Surrogate’s Court and be admitted to probate, in most instances the probate process is not complicated by Will contests or other types of estate litigation.  The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published many articles concerning estate planning, probate and estate settlement.

Another important advantage of preparing a Will is the designation of an executor.  The Surrogate’s Court routinely accepts a testator’s nomination unless specific wrongdoing or other impropriety is shown by an objectant.  A nominated executor can be a family member or a friend or a professional advisor.  Generally, only non-resident aliens are excluded.

When a person dies without a Will, he is deemed to have died intestate.  As a result, the estate is subject to the laws and procedures concerning intestate administration.  Under these rules, a decedent’s estate is distributed to his next of kin according to a priority established in Estates, Powers and Trusts law Section 4-1.1 entitled “Descent and distribution of a decedent’s estate.”  Unlike with a Will, a person cannot decide who receives the estate assets.  The New York Statutes determine the estate beneficiaries.

Additionally, the administrator of the estate is also determined by statute – Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act Section 1001, entitled “Order of priority for granting letters of administration.”  Since the statutory right to act as administrator may be granted to more than one (1) person, i.e., children, there is a greater tendency for controversy and conflict regarding the appointment of an administrator.  For example, if there are five (5) children, each one may want to be the estate administrator.  This situation often results in estate litigation.  I have represented many family members in these types of cases.

A typical example of the conflict which arises regarding the appointment of an administrator is reflected in a recent Bronx estate case entitled Matter of Nunez, decided by Judge Elizabeth A. Taylor on February 26, 2024.  In Nunez, a decedent died and was survived by a number of children.  The estate asset was a beauty salon located in Manhattan.  Two (2) of the children filed petitions in the Court seeking to be appointed as administrator.  As set forth in the Court decision, the two (2) children accused each other of wrongdoing regarding the post-death operation of the business.  The relationship between the children was contentious.  The Court noted that mere disharmony between estate beneficiaries and a proposed fiduciary was not sufficient to disqualify a petitioner.  However, when the hostility affects the administration of the estate and jeopardizes estate assets, the Court can refuse to appoint an applicant.  In view of the circumstances in Nunez, the Court appointed the Public Administrator as full administrator.

As can be seen from Nunez, matters affecting a decedent’s estate can be complicated.  The advice and guidance of an experienced estate lawyer can be essential.  I have represented clients in estates and Surrogate’s Court matters throughout New York for over forty (40) years.  Do you have an estate issue?  Call Me Now for a free confidential review of your estate matter.  We offer reasonable and flexible fee arrangements and personal representation.

New York Trusts and Estates Attorney Jules Martin Haas has helped many clients over the past 40 years resolve issues relating to guardianship and probate and estate settlement throughout New York City including the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Nassau and Suffolk County.  If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial free consultation.

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